This is my 40th year as a consultant for roofing contractors. A lot has changed but a lot has stayed the same. The contracting business is an ever-churning whirlpool of short term crisis and deadlines. The very nature of employing people, feeding those employees material and maintaining production deadlines is all consuming. Weeks have a way of turning into months and months turning into years. Keeping people within your roofing company and your organization itself fresh is not easy.
As people and organizations age, both have a tendency to get stuck, exhibit an unwillingness to change and over time can become outdated. The sheer daily grind of getting things done makes it tough to improve. When you’re knee deep in alligators, the mere thought of employing a more efficient way to kill those alligators is overwhelming.
So how do you and your organization stay fresh? It starts with leadership and implementing a process that forces change. We are all familiar with the “I meant to get to it” or “TUIT” problem. “I meant to get to training people.” “I meant to upgrade the software.” So what are some things you can do to force change?
First, if you, as owner and leader don’t force change, who will do it? Management without leadership is like polishing the deck rail on the Titanic. At the time it seems really important, but in the big picture it really doesn’t matter.
Our networking groups have taught me some valuable consulting realities and tools. Our groups have several reasons for their tremendous success and we have contractors who started in the group 25 years ago that are still in it today.
1. Avoid Isolation
As a business owner and roofing contractor, you’re too close to the problem to see it objectively. Most contractors suffer from inbreeding and building internally. Having an outside set of eyes can be helpful. If you hire a consultant, make sure that person has small business experience. Consultants from large corporations don’t necessarily give good hands-on advice. Consider visiting an out of state contractor or a local sub not in your trade such as a mechanical or electrical contractor. Many of the processes are the same.
2. Be Public
Meet within your company and set some goals for change publicly. If you don’t make changes public, they won’t happen. My most successful consulting processes always involve more than one trip; never just writing a report. People scramble to get things done before you come back. Even if it’s a couple of days before you return, the public nature of accountability forces folks to get it done.
3. Inform Everyone
Some of the mature employees may not be so quick to change, so be sure to make them part of the public process and encourage them to participate. It’s important to remember you’re not doing these changes based on public opinion. Rather, the process of going public is to gain employee buy-in. You’re simply saying, “This is where we are going and you need to be on board.”
4. Hire New Blood
Technology usage is definitely accepted in proportion to people’s age. Having younger people come on board and help with a tech transition is a good thing. Nothing can foil implementation of a new computer system better than a 60-year-old bookkeeper or project manager who’s not motivated to change. Remember, 55-year-old employees will probably not retire until 67 or later. They can’t hold the company hostage for 10 years or they themselves become a dinosaur. Make that clear, be patient, force change. If he or she is a good employee, pride is part of their DNA. Use that pride to move forward.
5. Set the Example
As a leader, make it clear that this is the direction the company’s going. Participate by exhibiting change. You can’t claim to be a leading-edge company with an owner who has a flip phone. Openly and publicly embrace the plan. Leadership is influencing others to accomplish organizational goals. Don’t let key employees who’ve been with you for years become sacred cows. Explain the importance and show compassion while insisting on change. Your role is to set direction and provide guidance.
6. Start Key Employee Succession
It never ceases to amaze me that key employees late in their careers rarely think of the need to pass on knowledge and how to do it successfully. I held a strategic planning and brainstorming session some years ago for a very bright 45-year-old owner’s son who was company president. He was worried about the future leadership of the company. We included a 63-year-old head estimator, a 61-year-old senior project manager, a 64-year-old production manager and a 59-year-old accountant in the meeting. None of them mentioned or felt succession in their position was required. No one was trying to run anyone off, we were simply trying to plan for the future. By acknowledging the issue and planning, key employee development started and became a huge success.
As an owner or upper manager, don’t let the day-to-day grind or your own pride and ego get in the way of your business’s progression. Your business’s future and your employee’s livelihoods depend on you staying a leading-edge company.